03 — We will thrive in our niche in the ecosystem
We will establish our position in the social impact ecosystem and ensure that we maintain focus on our unique perspective, approach, and strengths. We know that our success lies in staying true to our mission, whereas straying from the path only prolongs our journey.
The social impact sector is a complex ecosystem of funders, philanthropists, nonprofits, government agencies and programs, social entrepreneurs, individual influencers, and activists. The space is tangled, messy, and imperfect. What worked yesterday may not work today or tomorrow. It is sometimes unfairly scrutinized or criticized. Other times, meager results are offset by good intentions. And the sector struggles with some of the same structural inequities that exist in the rest of our society.
This messiness can lead your social impact organization to fall into the traps of mission creep, reactionary thinking, and lackluster progress towards reaching your mission and vision. The root cause of this is a lack of clarity, focus, and diligence in staying true to your path, preventing you from owning your unique perspective, approach, and strengths. While you do not need to make it your mission to fix philanthropy (unless that’s your thing), you must carve out a niche within the ecosystem.
As a nonprofit, will your focus be regional or global? Is your approach based on advocacy, policy-making, direct relief, or some combination of all three?
As a funder, will you stay behind the scenes and write checks, or will you use your unique knowledge and perspective to help convene, build consensus, and guide the organizations that you support?
As a social enterprise or entrepreneur, how can your market-based approach not only create an impact but also drive innovation in sustainability or lead to new models or technologies that can be used as a force for good?
Until your core model, theory of change, and approach to creating a positive social impact is defined and distinct from other players in the space, you will always struggle to stand out, attract support, and make a meaningful difference.
As our society evolves, social impact organizations must become more specialized in their focus.
Lean into what makes you different — your unique perspective — and find ways to partner with other value-aligned players to fill any gaps in your niche of the larger impact ecosystem.
The pre-information-era charity is pulled in too many directions, loses sight of their mission or approach, and strays from the path. The future-thinking social impact leader knows that it is only through focused discipline and owning a niche that true progress is realized.